Life in camps no better for Haitians than in days following earthquake

A husband and wife build a makeshift tent from sticks less than three weeks after Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake. Reports on the ground indicate that little has changed in the camps more than seven months since the disaster occurred. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Seven months after the Jan. 12 earthquake, a large part of Haiti continues to reel in the aftermath of the disaster. Haitians are praying and hoping that relief comes their way soon and that summer tropical storms bypass their country.

A brief description of life in the displaced persons camps arrived this week from Junior Sinsmyr, the young man whom CNS photographer Bob Roller and I hired as a driver and interpreter during our 10 days of reporting from the Port-au-Prince area following the quake.

Writing in an e-mail, Sinsmyr, who lost his home and continues to live in a tent community near the international airport, described the situation as confused, even worse than in the days following the earthquake.

“I already change three tents,” he wrote in English, his second language, “’cause rain and sun fall them apart, break them.

“Things are difficult here for those like me. The hunger is the first. Beside this, when the quake was just happened, it was so frustrated, but finding help easier than now. People do not care about others now,” he said.

Sinsmyr’s message was followed by one from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio to Haiti. He also wrote that life is hardly any better in the hundreds of tent camps that sprouted in the broad earthquake zone in the days after the disaster.

“It’s always emergency from the humanitarian perspective,” the archbishop said. “The camps are always the same as they were days after the earthquake. Some say that instead of diminishing, the camp populations have seen an increase, at least in some, attracted by aid distribution and possibility of cash-for-work, as well as the impossibility of finding better alternatives.”

Efforts by agencies such as Catholic Relief Services to provide transitional housing has helped some homeless Haitians, but the overwhelming majority of displaced people remain under improvised shelter, he said.

“It’s one solution to depopulate the camps and make sure the house is built on properties verified by owners,” Archbishop Auza continued. “There are some NGOs (nongovernment organizations) that prefer to build permanent housing. But we are light years away from fulfilling the demands.”

The archbishop said 250,000 homes are needed to house the 1.5 million people who remain in the camps. “We are still so far from that.”

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